Borders? What borders? The measles virus enjoys visa-free travel around Europe and the latest report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reads like a case study in virus mobility.
Almost 70% of 4,000 measles cases in the European Union over the past 12 months were in Germany and Italy, according to a new report. But what’s really interesting is how this infectious disease has spread around the continent.
The story begins in Bosnia & Herzegovina where more than 5,000 people have been infected. Authorities in Germany say that a child from Bosnia & Herzegovina moved to Germany where the virus spread to the local population.
Tragically, this hit the headlines when an 18-month-old child died in Berlin following measles infection. Outbreaks were also reported in the German state of Thuringia (including at Weimar Bauhaus University) and in Dresden. Around one quarter of Germany’s cases resulted in hospitalisation.
Germany accounted for 45.9% of all cases reported to the ECDC in the 12 month period to April, followed by Italy which recorded 23.9%.
From Germany to Norway, France and Austria
On 17 April, a traveller from Berlin visited Oslo in Norway where they were diagnosed with measles. A child who travelled with the person diagnosed in Oslo was also suspected to have contracted the virus. Further cases in Sweden and Croatia have been linked to the German outbreak.
Meanwhile, a group of children from an anthroposophic school in the Alsace region of France – which borders Germany and Switzerland – visited Berlin on a school trip. One of the children caught measles while staying with a German family.
Immunisation rates in anthroposophic schools are often lower than in the general population so, sadly, it was perhaps unsurprising to hear that 47 unvaccinated kids at the school in France picked up measles following the school trip. (Worst. Souvenir. Ever.)
Germany’s other next-door neighbour, Austria, has also been dealing with outbreaks in seven of its nine provinces. Adolescents and adults are worst affected although six of the 117 cases reported from January to April were in babies too young to be immunised. 24 people (16% of cases) were hospitalised.
Five of the cases were imported from abroad: two from Germany, two from Bosnia & Herzegovina and one from India.
Add to this the massive ongoing outbreaks in Kyrgyzstan (16,000 cases!), Serbia (348 cases), Russia (20 cases) and it’s easy to see why the ECDC and WHO Europe are urging all of us to ensure we are vaccinated against measles.
The measles virus is as mobile as we are. But if 95% of Europeans have two doses of measles vaccine, as recommended by experts, we can prevent the disease from finding new people to infect.